Food Prowl: Omaha's best $31 burger -
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The Grey Plume burger begins with a Wagyu beef patty seared in animal fat, then basted with rosemary, thyme and foaming butter. It is served on a buttered and toasted house-made bun with caramelized onions, house-made mustard, house-made bread-and-butter pickles and lettuce dressed in herb puree and garlic aioli. The burger is topped with house-made buttermilk cheese sprinkled with orange zest and shavings of salt-cured lomo. It's served with a side of duck fat fried heirloom potatoes with garlic aioli and herb puree sauce.(REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD)
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The ingredients needed to prepare the Grey Plume burger include, on the left plate, a Wagyu beef patty, optional pork belly and foie gras. On the tray at right, a house-made bun, from top, buttermilk cheese, caramelized onions, salt-cured lomo, bread-and-butter pickles, mustard, duck fat fried heirloom potatoes, herb puree and garlic aioli.(REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD)

Food Prowl: Omaha's best $31 burger
By Sarah Baker Hansen / World-Herald staff writer

VIDEO: Omaha's best gourmet burger

This is the online version of today's Food Prowl story. To read the full version, click here.

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For this month's Food Prowl, we sought Omaha's best gourmet burger.

Even with such high-end burgers, our main criteria remained pretty straightforward: The burger patties had to be cooked and seasoned right. And all the other stuff, even the most creative toppings and condiments, was just decoration. Albeit delicious decoration.

Food Prowl is a monthly contest of the best dishes in Omaha, as determined by our food writer, Sarah Baker Hansen, and group of guest tasters.

Next month: French fries

Find past Food Prowls here.

* * *

This month's guest tasters:

• An Vu of the Omaha Burger Club
• Nick Strawhecker, chef and owner at Dante Ristorante
• Mindy Duff, who's eaten burgers around the world.

* * *

The prices:

Gourmet burgers don't come cheap.

Most of the burgers we tried for the June Food Prowl ran around $12, and most came with a side of French fries. Special toppings usually come with a price.

The winning burger at the Grey Plume also happened to be the most expensive, especially when we added foie gras and pork belly. The basic burger at dinner is $16. The foie gras burger came in at $31; the one that had pork belly on top ran just a touch less, $24.

After the prowl, I watched chef Clayton Chapman make his burger, and the value becomes clear when you see it come together.

The Wagyu beef is ground in-house. Toppings can include a huge chunk of foie gras — the biggest I've ever seen — or an equally sizeable chunk of pork belly that comes from T.D. Niche Farm in Nebraska.

The bun is made from scratch in-house. So are the caramelized onions, sweet pickles, grainy mustard and chunky buttermilk cheese, which is similar to feta.

Diners also pay for Chapman's panache. He sears each burger in animal fat, then bastes it with foaming butter, rosemary and thyme. He toasts the bun on the grill, then spreads onions and mustard on each side and heats the condiments and bread for a few minutes. He tops the burger with a healthy slather of buttermilk cheese, then grated orange zest and a grate of salty lomo salami — an alternative to salt — and warms that up separately.

He dresses the greens for the burger with a blend of herb puree and house-made garlic aioli, then he places them along with the pickles on one half of the bun with a pair of oversized tweezers. The other half of the bun gets the burger, and the whole thing is served open-face with a side of the aioli and herbs for dipping the thick-cut, stubby duck fat fries.

The team agreed that the experience of eating the burger at the Grey Plume is most definitely worth the price.

Here's how the other contenders stacked up:

» Lot 2 cheeseburger: $11

» J. Coco Wagyu burger: $13, with add-ons priced at 50 cents each

» Plank blackened Angus burger: $11; fried oysters an additional $3.50; braised bacon $2; cheese, avocado or a fried egg, $1

» Dario's cheeseburger: $13

» Louie's Wine Dive burger: $12

The Winner: The Grey Plume
220 S. 31st Ave.

The Plume burger was one of the most flavorful, and the seasoning of the patty was on-point. The Plume makes its burger using the beef cut called chuck roll, sort of the “pork butt” of beef. Plume makes its buns in-house, and the menu offers add-ons, two of which we tried: foie gras and pork belly.

The burger was an experience to eat. Alone, the mustard may have been a touch grainy and spicy, and the bun may have been a touch dry, the chunks of foie gras and pork belly too big. But when you took a bite of condiment, house-made pickle, crumbly buttermilk cheese, burger and bun, the whole thing became clear this burger is thoughtful. Not one flavor was lost or muddled.

We did have a few problems. It required a knife and fork, which guest taster Mindy Duff didn't like. Picking it up, she said, is “part of the joy of eating a burger.”

The experience of the Plume burger left me breathless. It elevated the lowly sandwich to something else: a real dish.

The other contenders:

J. Coco
5203 Leavenworth St.

The J. Coco burger is one of my favorites in town. The burger I ate was cooked perfectly, topped with a runny egg and resting on a bed of sweet caramelized onions. I opted for the buttered and toasted brioche bun.

The egg and onions exploded with flavor and brought just the right amount of moisture to the package. The slightly charred exterior of the patty tasted great paired with the pink center.

Lot 2
6207 Maple St.

Lot 2's burger has a lot going on, including a spread of homemade bacon-onion marmalade, a secret sauce and roasted tomato. We all got the restaurant's basic cheeseburger and ordered one naked patty, sans toppings or bun. The results created a team split.

Guest taster An Vu and I agreed that the first bite tasted more like a bacon sandwich. Mindy's burger, though, had just the right amount of bacon jam and wasn't overwhelmingly smoky or bacony. None of us could taste the roasted tomatoes, which was too bad because one was tasty when I tried it alone. The naked patty tasted fairly salty, and the inconsistency of the dressed burgers bothered me.

Guest taster Nick Strawhecker loved the Lot 2 burger, though, and said that it was one of the juiciest we'd tried.

Plank Seafood Provisions
1205 Howard St.

It at first struck me as a bit weird to try a burger at Plank, the city's newest seafood place. Nick got house-cured bacon and cheese on his burger, while An opted for the most adventurous topping, a fried oyster. Mindy and I shared a classic cheeseburger.

The oyster burger, which we all sampled, took the cake. Two fried pieces of oyster almost melted into it but didn't overtake its flavor. We liked the textural mix of the juicy beef and slightly tougher seafood, and the oyster brought unexpected crunch and chew to the sandwich.

Our main beef with Plank's burger: the nondescript buns.

Dario's Brasserie
4920 Underwood Ave.

We waited the better part of an hour for our three burgers, which came out way too rare, one basically inedible and way too salty. One was saltier even than the duck fat French fries.

Louie's Wine Dive
16920 Wright Plaza

The burger here was classic and basic but not very gourmet.

“It's not a bad burger,” Mindy said. “It just doesn't compare with the other ones we've had.”

Contact the writer: Sarah Baker Hansen    |   402-444-1069    |  

Sarah writes restaurant reviews and food stories for the World-Herald.

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